L&D, Meet UX Design: To Make L&D Training Courses Effective, Test Them with Users before Launching

By Dirksen, Julie | Talent Development, November 2018 | Go to article overview

L&D, Meet UX Design: To Make L&D Training Courses Effective, Test Them with Users before Launching


Dirksen, Julie, Talent Development


Think about an experience with a website that was so frustrating you wanted to punch your screen or a time when the TV remote seemed like it was designed for--or by--Martians. Increasingly, much of the technology in our world just works. We don't have to think about it or expend a lot of effort to understand it.

We expect our smartphone apps to make sense immediately--and most do. In fact, you may not even notice that technology is getting better, because you are too busy accomplishing the things you need to get done with it. This didn't happen by accident. It's because of user experience (UX) design. While many people in L&D are aware of UX and why it's important, it's still unknown or underutilized far too often.

UX design is a field that looks at all aspects of an end user's experience with a product, program, website, or service. It has its origins in fields like human factors and human-computer interaction. It draws from visual design, interface and interaction design, information architecture, and usability engineering.

UX design is a based on a few key principles. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the end user's context, goals, and needs. It also has a variety of techniques and strategies for researching and communicating about the end-user audience that could help inform the design of learning experiences.

But the field is also predicated on the idea that even the best design needs to be tested and refined. For example, UX researchers understand that a software interface designed by the most expert designers using the best-known design practices is still going to have issues that they need to resolve and that they will only uncover by testing the designs with end users.

UX design relies heavily on the idea that it's not enough to know what people think of your designs (via focus groups or reviews)--you have to see what people do with those designs. It's based on observing actions rather than gathering opinions.

The situation

As a field, L&D has several challenges. Training departments struggle with budgets, timeframes, stakeholder requirements, and technology constraints. The ever-increasing use of digital tools means we and our target audiences are constantly in a state of learning new technologies.

But the biggest problem is that L&D has a broken feedback loop. The majority of people working in L&D are not getting enough information about the efficacy of the solutions they are building. As more long-distance or geographically distributed audiences use the materials and experiences we design, we face increasing difficulty seeing the impact of our work.

Understanding users

UX design focuses on several core competencies:

* understanding users

* creating designs to address user needs

* prototyping quick and dirty solutions

* testing solutions and iterating on designs.

Figure 1 depicts what instructional design work on a training project often looks like. Where is the learner in that figure?

Some projects include a substantive up-front analysis, but--in my experience--that often gets skipped over. When it is included, it's typically performance with the same analysis methods that have been in place for decades.

The UX field continually works to improve the tools and methods for design research.

User personas. User personas are fictional representations of your target audience based on interview data or other audience data. For example, if you're creating a course on new techniques for substance abuse counselors, you may have a survey that tells you the audience's educational levels or something about their experience in the field, but that information often fails to guide design.

Instead, I could have three representative personas:

* Phil. A former addict, he now works in a drug treatment center as a group counselor. …

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